Over the Atlantic on British Airways flight #0178 from New York (JFK) to London (Heathrow). It was touch-and-go whether or not this flight would actually fly. The Icelandic volcanic eruption about a week ago threw grit high into the atmosphere. Winds have carried that grit and debris to southern England and northern Europe, and airports there have been closed for nearly a week. British Airways was particularly hard hit, and they only just started running flights into and out of London last night.
I’ve been staying the past couple of nights in New York with a long-time friend, Arlene. The New York stay was partly a staging visit for the European trip, but I also wanted to spend time with a good friend I haven’t seen for more than two years. It’s always such a pleasure to sit over a leisurely meal or coffee and just converse with her. Even though we’ve been friends for nearly half a century, we always have plenty to talk about, and the topics seem endlessly new and interesting. It's a chance to share experiences and understanding in person, and I always feel as if I learn something when we get together. She, Dinah, Art, and Constance are the four friends with whom I’ve always been able to have non-trivial conversations. And now Constance is dead.
That first evening in New York, Arlene and I went to the “Vagina Monologues” (a partly Spanish version) at a little cafe on the lower East Side of Manhattan. It was partly funny and partly serious and partly embarrassing. It expressed an overworked anger and pride about the condition of being woman, particularly its sexual aspects. I might have enjoyed it more if I were younger, but I was glad to have seen it, finally. It came to Spoleto (Piccolo?) in Charleston several years ago, and I didn’t go then, although a couple friends urged me to go.
During the day, I unpacked and reorganized my suitcases, partly looking for some things I was afraid I had left behind (camera battery charger, for example). I found what I was looking for and was relieved, although I am going to have trouble with the large suitcase (a rolling duffle) because the upper strap on it broke. I tried sewing it back, but it broke again when the doorman tried to lift it into the trunk of the taxi for JFK airport.
I see this as the “last big trip of my life” – at least my last big trip abroad. I, who have traveled almost obsessively since that first joy of discovering of independent travel. That was when I used money I had earned as a car-hop at the Dixie Spot the summer I was fifteen to take a three day boat trip to Niagara Falls from Detroit with a friend, Carol Schmidt (“Schmidty”), who was then 16. We had an absolutely marvelous time, running around together on the ship, seeing The Falls, riding under them on the Maid-of-the-Mist, buying souvenirs with our own money, savoring our amazement at things we had never seen before. The freedom! Several older couples “adopted” us when they discovered we were on our own, so we were not without protection. We probably had more eyes on us (and on what we were doing) than if we had been there with our own parents. Still, it was a delicious feeling of freedom and possibility that I remember vividly to this day.
Travel has almost always rejuvenated my soul, as during the Sweetbriar “Junior Year in France” (1956 – ’57), when I left home carrying a heavy torch for D.M. that oppressed my spirit and returned feeling renewed, happy and believing that anything was possible. Since then, I’ve lived abroad for five years, in four different countries, and have taken many trips to other countries, both during those stays abroad and directly from the U.S. I really need to compile all these trips and the countries I’ve visited. People ask me, occasionally, how many countries I’ve been to, and I can’t tell them.